The idea of family, community and lessons learned at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey was the theme for more than 700 undergraduates Sunday afternoon at the fall commencement ceremony.

In his remarks during the ceremony, Stockton College President Herman Saatkamp said the day was a celebration of joy and appreciation for those who helped graduates through their journeys.

And although the economic climate and job landscape is not as solvent as many graduates would hope for, speakers reminded the graduates to continue to move forward and work hard.

“What is ahead of you is persistence, diligence and hard work. When you leave this ceremony, do not forget the lessons learned here at Stockton: building communities and joining hands with others of different backgrounds,” Saatkamp said.

Roger L. Jackson, president of the Faculty Senate, said the faculty has seen how the graduates have succeeded, where they have failed and all of their attempts.

“You will now face an onslaught of folks telling how difficult it’s going to be. If I may let you in on something, it was always difficult. The path was not always a straight line. We’ve all sat in those chairs with a sense of panic of what was next,” Jackson said.

Kim Crooks, 22, of Pequannock, Morris County, is one of those graduates who is scared about venturing into the world outside the family of Stockton College.

Crooks said her Stockton College life forged friendships that will last forever.

“It’s tough out there, and there are not a lot of jobs,” Crooks said as she held her graduation cap adorned with decorations from her education studies.

Crooks received a bachelor’s degree in literature and education. She said she hopes to become a teacher. Although four years ago she applied to 15 colleges and universities, there was something distinct about Stockton, she said.

Student Senate President Maribeth Capelli, addressing the graduates, said although their time here was at times an exhausting journey, Stockton is a special place.

“I went from living 30 minutes away from home to calling my school my home,” Capelli said.

Robert E. Helsabeck, professor emeritus of sociology, told the graduates the faculty tried to make them capable, agile and humble.

Helsabeck echoed Saatkamp’s thoughts that some may feel stressed about their immediate futures.

“This commencement ceremony is the beginning of a new phase of your lives. In making a living, make space for those things that make a life,” Helsabeck said.

Two graduate students who earned their master’s degrees in Instructional Technology have been juggling school, home and careers for the last several years.

Roma Surti, 30, of Absecon, who works as a cashier at Borgota Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, is the mother of one child and has worked full time while attending graduate school at the same pace.

She smiled Sunday after commencement as she spoke of pursuing a career in customer service training at Borgota.

“I feel more positive and excited. I am sure I’m going to get a good job,” she said.

Surti and fellow Instructional Technology graduate Johana De Jesus, of Galloway Township, worked alongside one another through the program.

On her graduation cap, De Jesus wrote her daughters’ names — Joanie, 18, and Deliana, 8 — and Stockton College, thanking them for supporting her through her studies.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my 18-year-old daughter Joanie who stayed at home at night and babysat her little sister, Deliana. And Stockton is like a family, and they have been so supportive,” De Jesus said.

Saatkamp held a moment of silence in memory of Lindsey Sickler, 26, who was killed last week as she headed home from Richard Stockton College.

Sickler, of Hammonton, was driving westbound on Moss Mill Road in Galloway Township on Wednesday night when she lost control of her vehicle, police said. She was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, Atlantic City, where she was pronounced dead.

Sickler’s family had accepted her master’s degree in communications disorders earlier in the day at the Master’s and Doctoral Hooding Ceremony in the Performing Arts Center.

Through tears, Sickler’s mother, Marcelle, said, “Thank you, everybody,” as she and Lindsey’s father, Tom, brother Brett and sister Holly received the posthumous diploma.

Lindsey Sickler worked as a speech therapist at the Rieck Avenue School in Millville.

“(Lindsey Sickler) was an advocate for all those who needed a voice. She was also a champion for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She touched many in a way that will be her legacy,” Saatkamp said.

The hooding ceremony also observed a moment of silence in Sickler’s honor. Her fellow graduates of the college’s first master’s in communications disorders wore memorial pins with her photo on them.

Lauren Stopa, a fellow graduate from Manasquan, Monmouth County, called it “a very bittersweet day” for their class.

“We truly are the pioneers. We are more than just classmates. We are family,” Stopa said.

“In the words of my classmate, Lindsey Sickler, we are truly grateful for the faculty. You taught us to never give up on our dreams,” Stopa said.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-226-9198

@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter